Saturday, April 6, 2013


It's interesting how life throws you twists.  I haven't always lived the healthiest of lives.  In fact, if I calculate by years approximately how long I have been eating and exercising correctly as opposed to not, I am about 50/50.  Still, that 50% of not doing good can certainly take a toll.

For the last two years, I have had great medical checkups.  My EKG's have been very good - blood pressure is great (I have never had to take high blood pressure medicine), my cholesterol levels are good, etc.  So much so that I recently got a life insurance policy and was able to lock into the best rate in the country for someone my age!  I felt very good about my health progress, etc.  Not having ever been a drinker or smoker (it's that darn LDS background) has also helped tremendously.

Having said that, my family has a history of high blood pressure.  My father had congestive heart failure in 2005 (he didn't die) and my mom had a stroke in 2007.  Strokes and heart disease are what seems to kill my family.  Adding my being morbidly obese for a number of years and the stress that does to one's heart, made me start to think - how healthy is my heart?  Could there be some underlying issue that has been undetected?  I also didn't want to be one of those triathletes that drops dead in the middle of a race.  I decided to investigate...

A triathlete friend, Mary Knott, recently recommended a general practitioner who was an Ironman triathlete.  He trains, he coaches and he is a Dr.  The perfect kind of partner someone like me needs as I get older but continue in this great sport.  His name is Joe Zitar and we hit it off right away.

Joe thought it would be a good idea, despite not having any symptoms, to go get an ultrasound done on my heart.  If it comes back clean, everything is great and we do nothing.  He cautioned, though, that if it doesn't come back clean, it would be 'muddy' in the sense that  an ultrasound on one's heart is not conclusive evidence but just another data point.  He also said that insurance didn't pay for this test but it was $100 and I knew I could swallow that pill.

I booked a session and did the test.  Very simple.  Painless and quick.

Three days before my recent race, Ironman Oceanside 70.3, I got a call from Dr. Zitar's office.  The R.N. said they had received my ultrasound results back and my calcium score was high and I had some pulmonary nodules.  As such, and I quote, "I should refrain from all stressful exercise until I could see a cardiologist."  I was in SHOCK.  I sat down and informed her that in 3 days I was doing IM Oceanside and I was pretty sure that constituted "stressful exercise."  She agreed and I asked to speak to Dr. Zitar.

Hours rolled by before I could talk to the Dr.  Meanwhile I phoned another physician friend and reviewed my results.  He downplayed it, which helped, but I was still scared.  Finally Dr. Zitar called and told me to calm down and that I certainly could race.  The fact that I was stressing my heart out with exercise on a daily basis with my training was an indication that there was nothing imminently wrong.  He had called the Cardiologist he was referring me to and discussed the situation with him.  He explained that a calcium score was high but really was only a predictor of the possibility of future heart disease.  Not that we don't have to potentially deal with it but it was not a heart attack ready to happen.  I found out later that more than likely my calcium score was higher years ago before I got into shape.  There is some good evidence out there that one can reverse one's score....  Good news for me.  The pulmonary nodules are common with people in Arizona due to the air quality.  They can be an issue if they are growing or changing.  Both will need to be investigated....  

Needless to say, all of this was hanging heavily over my head prior to my race.  


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